Monica had been sent off to school, wide-eyed and blinking.
"Finally," breathed Judy Geller, "some peace."
Monica hadn't quite been out of earshot.
Her hair wasn't right. Her clothes weren't right. And would she hurry up, they were late.
Actually (because she could tell the time already, she was very proud. Her Dad had praised her) they were early. She got told off when she pointed this out.
Ross got 96% on a test. It was all Monica heard about for a week.
When it came to Monica's turn to do that same test she prepared and revised endlessly, so much so that her best friend (only friend) Rachel called her a 'crazy mad thing' (she was only young, it was the best she could come up with). Monica got 93%. Her Mother said nothing; the look she gave her was enough.
Monica understood: she needed to be perfect.
She also understood that it would never be enough.
Food, Monica quickly learnt, never let her down.
Her mother may hate her.
She may be engaged in a bitter, raging rivalry with her brother that on many levels she could never win. Her parents preferred Ross. Whilst many children suspected that their parents favoured a sibling, she knew this for a fact. Her parents made it painfully clear.
Her best friend may be the most popular girl in school whilst she was 'just' Monica.
Her Dad may (sometimes reluctantly, but still) always side with her mother, and when he did try to comfort her he always said entirely the wrong things.
But food always made her feel better.
"Monica," her mother's unmistakeable disapproving tone greeted her at the school gates, Monica didn't look at the warm greetings and the hugs, "why is your room messy?"
Monica cleaned her room until it was absolutely spotless.
Cleaning, Monica learnt that day, brought control, and because she couldn't control so much, couldn't control the things she hated so much in her life; she cherished it. She couldn't control her mother's criticisms, the fact she had so few friends, her ever-growing weight (okay, so she could do something about that, but it was just so hard), but she could make sure her room was perfect. It was a small thing, but it made her feel better.
Food was an addiction.
Monica had attempted to diet many times: every time the bullying about her weight got too much, and when she learnt her heart was in trouble, but always she found she could not give it up.
Food had always made her feel better and she could not give up that small comfort.
I just don't want to stay here with your fat sister
It hurt. Daggers in her struggling heart kind of hurt. Not because he had called her fat; everyone called her fat, it wasn't an insult more a statement of fact. It was the disgust in his voice that hurt.
She had thought they had been getting along. So maybe she would only be Ross's little sister to him, she could deal with that. But they had been getting along, she had made him macaroni and cheese, he had liked it.
But apparently that didn't matter; she disgusted him, because she was fat.
Well, she would change that, she would diet, and this time she would not back down. When she truly put her mind to something she always won. She would be thin, not for him, but because she was sick of people dismissing her because she was fat. And her heart would no longer be in trouble.
She would be perfect.
Rachel had to admire Monica's willpower and determination really. If Monica said she would diet, Monica, who loved food more than any being alive, would just stop eating. Completely.
Monica wouldn't even start eating again when she was hospitalised. Twice. And so Rachel, who really was a push over compared to Monica, would do anything to get her best friend to start eating again, because her mother, who was currently complaining about 'her attention seeking daughter', sure wouldn't. Rachel wasn't a violent person, but she had never felt more like slapping a person than she did right now (well, except for that one time at Bloomingdales, but she had seen the dress first, the other girl deserved it). Rachel wasn't sure that the fact that Judy had come to the hospital was a good thing. Rachel told herself that it showed that Judy did love her daughter, and that was a good thing. But the things she was saying in her horrible, loud voice (the things she always said) would only destroy Monica's self esteem, which, especially considering what she was in for, could only destroy everything.
Rachel started Monica off on small amounts of diet food, which, in an uncharacteristic show of strength against Monica, she forced Monica to eat. Monica's health gradually improved and the diet paid off, which even Monica had to admit, was an improvement.
It wasn't perfect, though. She wasn't perfect. And she needed to be perfect.
It was fun watching Chandler's jaw drop.
But the brief stab of pleasure was gone in a flash. It wasn't enough. It was never enough. It was never enough weight lost (though they said she had to eat). The dishes would never be clean and Chandler would never be humiliated to her satisfaction.
Nothing would ever be perfect.
She knew she was far past sanity, but she knew she could pretend just enough. Rachel would never understand her problem, so Monica went along with her idea. Besides, it might be fun.
It wasn't. She accidently cut off Chandler's toe.
Funnily enough the extremity of that particular mistake helped calm her down. Something in her mind clicked and she realised she'd gone too far. She never lost her obsession with control and cleanliness, but it helped.
She's never seen a shrink. She's often wondered what they'd say, though, about all her issues. Some of it is obvious: overcritical mother, overshadowed by an elder brother, bullied at school. The fact that chopping off a guy's toe helped her, however, might just make their day interesting.
Getting her own apartment feels like the greatest thing in the world. She was striking out, doing everything she ever wanted to. She was going to be a chef. She was going to explore the world. And more. Her mother's (many) criticisms seemed to just bounce off her. It's a trick she felt she should have been able to master earlier, but it doesn't matter. She just walked away from her mother, from her criticisms, feeling good.
Everything is perfect.
Of course, the feeling didn't last for long, she never expected it to. There were so many problems, so many … messes. She needs order.
The first problem is her new neighbour, Chandler. There's nothing wrong with him, its just … she cut off his toe.
In the end he was surprisingly okay about the whole toe cutting incident after she explained her side of the whole, embarrassing incident and they spent an enjoyable, if unusual afternoon comparing issues. She told Chandler, all the time marvelling at how easy it was to talk to him, about her mother issues, brother issues, weight issues and cleanliness / control issues. Chandler told Monica, like Monica, marvelling about the ease of conversation, about his mother issues, father issues, divorce issues and why he hated Thanksgiving with such a passion.
They became friends, best friends really, Rachel was long gone, and for all she had sworn to hate him, she liked Chandler so much. They agreed that they were both fantastically messed up, though Monica was undoubtedly better at burying her issues. They parted in the evening, both starting to look for roommates.
And so it went. The basis of the group was formed.
Didn't they understand? Why didn't they understand? Her parents were visiting, now more than ever everything had to be perfect.
It wouldn't ever be enough, she knew, but as little ammunition as possible, she could cope with. Every false praise, every not-so-subtle hint, every comparison to Ross, every criticism, she could cope.
She could cope.
Chandler was the only one who understood, the only one who was just a mess as she. Even Rachel, who had grown up with her, been her closest friend, didn't understand, maybe because she had grown up being spoilt, doted on by parents who loved her, she didn't understand what it was to grow always fearful of a parent's opinion. It wasn't her fault she didn't understand, but she was glad she had Chandler.
It still wasn't perfect.
Her mother was being … her mother. Comments that she had learnt to shake off over the years were hurting far more than they should have. Stupid drunken comments from strangers were hurting.
She was drunk. She was miserable. She kissed him. He kissed her.
They woke the next morning. She shivered; she thought she had ruined everything, the best friendship of her life.
He held her once they got back to New York.
"It's not perfect," he said, "it doesn't have to be. It's better than that."